Interview by Tyler Curtis
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, a band out of Rochester NY, is making a huge impression on the reggae scene.
The band has gone from as many as 7 musicians, to now a 4 piece reggae dubÂ powerhouse, providing you that downright kinky reggae, to that full dub sound. While they may not be considered a jam band, they present their audiences with a top-of-the-line good time, and music to match the concert experience.
You can catch them at music festivals like Nateva this summer, and they are most likely coming to an area near you on their never ending tour.
Interview with bassist James Searl
TC: First let me start off with saying, how does a downright amazing reggae band pop out of Rochester NY? Or is there a underground reggae scene that I’m just unaware of?
GPGDS: Many notable Rochester musicians have had life changing musical revelations from reggae music since reggae went international from Jamaica in the 1970s. Having traveled a bit now, I realize that people outside of Jamaica becoming obsessed with roots reggae is not a unique phenomenon in anyway. It is part of the reggae phenomenon. It reflects accurately reggae’s power as a musical aesthetic to cross cultural, class, gender, and racial boundaries. It is more popular then any other music in the world, its just not marketed on MTV that way. With reggae music it seems as though naturally the listener and the music just connect, as if pieces of a puzzle or a complete picture. Once reggae was taken out of Jamaica and pushed through record stores and radio stations all across the globe, it spread like pollen to flower from the reggae seed. Lee Scratch Perry actually moved to Rochester to work with a group called the Majestics in the early 80s. Dylan our guitar player was always playing in great roots bands, be it reggae or West African music, always original and dead on with the soul. I think everybody in this group found reggae in their own way, but it was certainly immediately received and supported well in Rochester. For more on some Rochester reggae history check out our brother Ron Stackman (www.ronstackman.com/ron_bio.html).
TC: How did you guys all meet and how did you guys start gigging?
GPGDS: It’s a pretty long story with lots of twists, turns and surreality. I grew up with Chris (drummer) and his brother and we all played lots of music together since we were about 12 or 13. It was a pretty musical community with all of the older kids playing in ska and metal groups so we were always working hard on being more original and better players then the older kids we looked up too. Also Dylan worked at a gas station behind our school and was always playing guitar and treating us with lots of respect, anyways we basically started playing our first gigs playing reggae music in Ithaca, NY where I went to college. Parties and clubs. Typical late 20th century activities. Always trying to make our concerts like a Phish show, as far as vibe and depth.
TC: Where does the name â€œGiant Panda Guerilla Dub Squadâ€ come from?
GPDGS: As a reggae group we were originally called Bombsquad because we had the bomb squad of players that we all knew of. Then we started traveling and getting write ups in newspapers describing totally different bands. It turns out there are about 400 bands that call themselves the bomb squad. Its pretty much the most unoriginal name you could have. We knew that no one sounded like us, and we are great at making music, not so much at making names to represent our capital product in the marketplace or any of that crap beyond what notes you’re playing and what words you’re saying. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is influenced by a novel called Another Roadside Attraction, by one of our favorite U.S. authors Tom Robbins. The book describes the Giant Panda Gypsy Blues Band who travel with the Indo-Tibetan circus up and down the coast of California. It seemed like a cool band to be a part of. We are more of a Guerilla Dub Squad. So we took it, also to have the biggest name not to be mistaken by anybody and to be highly visible in the newspaper or on a poster. Since having that name we have run into rap group Giant Panda, a Yellow Wall Dub Squad, an actual Giant Panda Gypsy Blues Panda, and all sorts of names you could confuse us with. Hilarious. I think if we had a choice we wouldn’t have a name, but we make music in 21st century U.S.A. and the mail has to be delivered to somebody.
TC: Where do you guys get your inspiration to perform music from? GPGDS: Day to day living for sure.
TC: Musical influences?
GPGDS: Everything from Bunny Wailer to Jane’s Addiction to Woody Guthrie to every band we ever play a show with.
TC: With the loss of band members, due to personal reasons I’m sure, how have you guys remained a powerful force in what you have been working at since 2004?
GPGDS: Working on the betterment of our lives through music is a consistent goal for all of us. Many things have to be in balance and lined up in order for a healthy progression and we believe that our intentions and our devotion to positivity is a reflection of the energy we get from our peoples love in our lives. That being said I feel that there is a mutual understanding with most that Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s existence is in line with reality and a positive force for people, including the members of the band, to support.Â Â We really give lots and lots of thanks for that. We love what we do, we love each other, and we love the people who understand and support that.
TC: Who does most of the songwriting?
GPGDS: Generally the person who sings the song wrote the main body of the song. However the song would never sound the same if the people playing on it were anybody other then themselves. What the listener ends up hearing is very much a collaborative effort of the whole band working toward a unified aesthetic.
TC: Most memorable moment as a band?
GPGDS: Probably seeing the Jamaican Cowboy perform with our friend Dave our first night in Jamaica in March 2007.
TC: How do you guys get together on and off the stage?
GPGDS: Love and affection on and off the stage. High levels of respect and hilarity.
TC: How’s the tour been? I believe you guys just got started with G. Love & Special Sauce, how’s that working out?
GPGDS: We’re on a month-long tour with G. Love, and it has been amazing! G. Love & Special Sauce is a great group of guys and their crew is as good as it gets. We are getting along great and they’re bursting with some of the most incredible musicianship you can get at a live show. Very inspiring and we are learning a lot.
TC: How’s festival/summer tour shaping up?
GPGDS: It’s looking like so much fun. Tour with Easy Star All-Stars, Wakarusa, Jamboree near Buffalo, Sterling Stage, Nateva with Furthur 4th of July weekend, Grassroots near Ithaca, NY is one of our favorites. Then probably a large tour in the end of August around the country.
TC: What can we expect from you guys in the near future, distant future?
GPGDS: Coming soon more music then you can imagine! Distant future even more music then that. We are hard at work, on and off the stage. It should be any minute now.
Bottom Line: This band is on fire, a true reggae experience to say the least, and is taking the lead in what they are trying to do as far as their competition. GPGDS will revolutionize the genre of reggae, by incorporating their many talents and their determination to put on a great show and make great music.